The nature of the hermaphrodite was a source of conflicting emotions in the Classical World. On one hand, the androgynous being represented a kind of natural deformity and was treated with fear; on the other hand, the hermaphrodite was the embodiment of physical, emotional, and mental harmony. While this paradox has almost always existed in mythology, one side or the other tended to predominate during a given cultural atmosphere. It is not until the late Classical/early Hellenistic period that we see the hermaphrodite become the object of veneration, the new ideal of beauty for a bisexual culture. By studying the shifting attitudes of mythology, the rise of the oikoumene culture, and evolution of gender, I hope to show that the hermaphrodite became a symbol of Hellenistic identity, community, and changing erotic sensibilities, no longer a subject for fear. In a paper of this nature, definitions are vital for clarity; unfortunately, the Greek conception of hermaphrodite is much less clear than the modern medical sense. While in some cases a hermaphrodite refers to any creature born with male and female genitalia, the meaning was stretched to enclose any sort of dual-sexuality.
[...] As women became more visible in Greek society, their estrangement from men lessoned, and they once more became the subject of erotic desire. Although it was no longer vital for the preservation of the government, pederasty was still practiced, and as a result, the Hellenistic Greeks developed a system of erotic bisexuality. While this had existed in the Classical period, if not before, the Hellenistic bisexuality differed in the type of attraction. Previously, bisexuality referred to the practice of sexual relationships with both women and men, while erotic love was reserved mostly for men. [...]
[...] Hermaphroditism was a sign, often, of pre-civilized beings: Ekindu in the Gilgamesh Epic has the hair of a woman when he is wild, and the androgynous war goddesses were bloodthirsty, often depicted wearing a necklace of skulls. It is no surprise, then, that this fear of the androgyne would spill over into the writing of Hesiod. While the Orphics were a relatively closed, mysterious cult, Plato still had enough knowledge of them to show their influence in the Symposium. Both Aristophanes's and Diotema's discussion of the nature of art show a tendency to try and resolve the dualities of nature, without resorting to the Eastern, chaotic answer of androgyne. [...]
[...] Yet, his age (fifteen) is the last age of boyhood, the age of pederasty and passivity in Greek males. The malleability of the gender of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus was no doubt a precipitator to their fusion. While the idea of metamorphism can be traced back to Homer and Hesiod, Ovid's metamorphism is unique as being the only example of simultaneous sexuality born out of separation, the reverse of what we have seen previously. Hesiod and the Orphics believed in the differentiation of one sexually whole being; Plato's Aristophanes argued that sex was the cause of an earlier condition of wholeness. [...]
[...] ORB (157) SC SA SA Aristotle, Generation of Animals IV b There is some speculation as to whether or not the cult of the hermaphrodite actually existed. The three main pieces of evidence are fragmentary at best : a. Theophrastus description of the superstitious man in Characters b. The following inscription: Hermaphro[di] [sic] toi euxamene. It was discovered near a southern spur of Mount Hymettus, on the territory of the deme of Anagyrus. The inscription, which the editors [J. Kirchner and S. [...]
[...] Sculpture was another medium in which the androgynous became something beautiful in the opinion of the Greek public. The mature, muscly bodies of the Archaic and early Classical severe style reflected the masculine ideal of the powerful statesman and the warrior. However, with the decline of the polis, and with the increase of Eastern influence, which I shall discuss shortly, figures began to become increasingly less antagonistic to the viewer. Rather, the emphasis was on realism, beauty, and desire rather than power and intimidation. [...]
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